Jam City

Ex-spy, ex-sportswear consultant, Jack Latham knows surreal

Text by Ruth Saxelby

Photography by Ed Fenwick

A few minutes' walk from the heaving consumerism of Oxford Street is the 18th century townhouse turned museum, The Wallace Collection. It is home to a formidable display of intricately decorated suits of armour, Old Masters and ornate trinkets. Through a room of school children immersed in a hands-on history lesson is a courtyard restaurant in which Jack Latham, aka Night Slugs producer Jam City, sits drinking coffee. Light streams in through the high glass ceiling above. With potted trees dotted around the generous open space, it creates that peculiar sense of at once being outside and inside.

It is easy to see why the impeccably dressed Latham, a former design student, chose this location as a meeting place. There is a feeling of suspension in the air, a strange but pleasant separation from the everyday world. It doesn't quite feel real.

"I've always had trouble distinguishing between the two," Latham says of reality and unreality. "That's even harder when I'm making work or the album which specifically tries to explain or translate what is already a surreal situation. I think it's more of a creative state than a theory about what is and isn't real. It's a state of being in-between worlds."

The album is Classical Curves, Latham's heavily anticipated debut on Night Slugs. It follows three EPs, the first of which, Refixes, was released in September 2010. With each release the noise around him grew, as did the skill with which he contorted and distorted grime, techno and house structures into tightly wrought, frisson-filled aural soundscapes.

On Classical Curves, those horizons have expanded to flesh out a fascinatingly compelling world that is equal parts abrasive and euphoric, intense and humorous. There is the underlying reek of petrol, a volatility that is once thrillingly sinister and highly romantic. There is also clever sleight of hand. In the moment and in the memory, tracks appear much fuller than their composite parts.

The backstory to the album could be a modern film noir. During his design degree, Latham had created a series of chrome body adornments, similar in appearance to body armour. "They started out as a fashion accessory, then I was developing them into bigger things: shoulder pads, chest pieces, dresses." He was hired by a big athletics brand that flew him out to the States to work on them for reasons he says he'll never know. "I have waking dream memories of my time there, feeling like I was bound up in a shadowy corporate body because this place was getting its funds from someone like Halliburton or worse. I spent a lot of time on my own in that environment, driving around, listening to techno and feeling like I was being watched."

Back in the UK, Latham had a spell doing the watching as a corporate spy (yes, really), which involved plenty of hanging out in marble-filled reception areas and bluffing his way into private events. That strange, detached atmosphere has understandably bled into his music. However, it was a dream he had on the return journey that became the blueprint for this album. "I had this vision of a landscape, which was a horizon at dusk with broken glass, mobile phones and bikes driving off into the night. The album was an attempt to work out this vision."

Everywhere are clues to the music that he loves. "A lot of them, like "Club Thanz", "Love Is Real" and "B.A.D.", are meditations on house and techno. So, isolating a soft Kerri Chandler organ chord or a bell texture and letting those really powerful elements hang there."

"Love Is Real" is also a nod to John Maus and his belief in "potentiality over actuality". It is something that chimes with Latham. A reaching for something beyond "this restrictive reality we all live in. Not even something new, but something else."

Whatever form that "something else" takes, Latham is ultimately interested in the physical response it commands. "Expressing your relationship to music through movement is essential. That's what bothers me when people don't dance and just stand there timidly. Dancing is a really necessary part of existence. It's like sex or breathing. It's a necessary human trait."

Classical Curves is out now on Night Slugs.

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